According to the World Health Organization (2020) the COVID-19 pandemic presents the greatest test the world has faced since the Second World War. What started as a public health emergency has snowballed into a formidable test for global development and for the prospects of today’s young generation. Research, although limited in its first-hand accounts in South Africa, has indicated the emotional distress and impact of Covid-19 on children in South Africa. Wolfson and Magnes (2020) study published by the Children’s Institute for Child Protection indicates that despite the crushing impact of the Covid-19 crisis on South Africa’s children, only 10% of news stories focus on children, with as little as 3% of narratives being told in children’s own words. The Daily Maverick focused on publishing articles on individual children’s accounts of their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. The children interviewed expressed feeling sad and angry, having to mourn the loss of relationships, opportunities to learn, time and the sacrifice of their opportunities and potential. Although some children clung to the hope that everything would soon “go back to normal”, others realised that it would not be possible and expressed deep-seated fears about what the future will hold.
NAVIGATING THE NEW NORMAL: A CALL FOR EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FOR LEARNERS:
The impact of the pandemic on the schooling system has arguably been the most significant for children, teachers and parents alike. Children have had to adjust to the disruption of the academic school year, posing a real threat to the completion and progression to the next academic year. One cannot ignore the negative impact the pandemic has had in terms of disrupting the schooling year, but more importantly the unprecedented impact it has had on children’s emotional well-being. Children have been isolated from their classmates and friends, impacting their socialisation skills, sense of belonging and self-esteem. Then of course there is the existential threat of the pandemic itself: what if I or my parents do not survive? Professor Jonathan Jansen (2020) research argues that the destabilisation of the academic year, marked by the on-again-off-again scheduling of the re-opening of schools has raised children’s hopes only to have them broken on multiple occasions. All this unrest has had a massive emotional impact on young hearts and minds across the country.
Children have returned to school but not in the way that they are used to. They are not free to run and hug their friends, they have to be aware of social distancing and of wearing masks at all times. The “new normal” as it has been coined. As children are social beings and learn fundamental life skills through their interactions with others, these changes constrain them from acting naturally, which can be distressful for many children without the correct coping skills to adapt. To navigate this new normal, children will need ongoing support to adapt to the stressors and the new changes that the pandemic has brought. Jansen (2020) argues that schools should not even think about normal teaching and learning when they re-open. They need to give attention to the emotional needs of children, including the reassurance of comfort and care. Of course, this cannot solely be the role of teachers, parents need to play a role in supporting their children too.
HOW CAN PARENTS TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT COVID-19 AND ITS IMPACT? 5 TOP TIPS ACCORDING TO BASU, (2020) How can parents talk to children about COVID-19 and its impact? Managing family communication and supporting children in a time of uncertainty.
- School age children by nature of curious beings as they learn to integrate with the world, therefore they may have more questions. Keep your explanations simple and factual.
- Parental supervision of television and internet use and exposure to the media/news is fundamental.
- In the face of uncertainty, children will struggle to self-regulate in relation to their emotions. Parents should give their children opportunities to explore their feelings and concerns, and provide appropriate assurances about your efforts and the school’s efforts to keep them safe.
- There is a lot of pressure on teachers to get through the year’s curriculum. Parents will have to assist, acknowledging that they themselves have a limited capacity, having to already meet the demands of family, jobs and society. Be mindful of your own coping style and emotional responses. Your emotional health impacts your children, so remember to take care of yourself
- Acknowledge that your child will cope differently to his/her peers and that is okay. If you cannot cope as a parent and your child’s school does not have the resources to support you child, seek outside support.
THE CONNECT GROUP – BUILDING RESLIENCE IN CHILDREN THROUGH CONNECTION
This is where the connect group can assist. Child therapy targets children’s emotional challenges and should be normalised as a support plan for children whom have internalised the long-term stress of lockdown. The Connect Group’s child therapist believes in building resilient children by equipping them with age appropriate coping strategies to deal with such life stressors. Child therapy provides a safe space for a child to communicate their emotions, fears and anxiety, whilst proving coping mechanisms to navigate the futures uncertainty. The Connect Group offers child therapy in Cape Town through art/ play therapy and trauma informed practice. This approach to therapy sees each child as an individual with their own unique perceptions and reactions to the transition of going back to school and life going forward. Equipping each child with the skillset and capacity to transition smoothly into the “new normal”.
In light of Covid-19 regulations, therapy can be offered face to face, with all safety protocols in place, as well as on Zoom. Sessional rates have been reduced in light of the reality of many parents who are facing job loss, pay cuts and additional financial strains. The Connect Group believes in healing and growing individuals with the connection to others.
Basu, A., 2020. How can parents talk to children about COVID-19 and its impact? Managing family communication and supporting children in a time of uncertainty. Massachusetts: Department of Psychiatry
Retrieved from: https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2555/2020/03/Talking-to-children-about-the-impact-of-COVID-19 (August, 2020)
Jansen, J., 2020. Ready to learn? The emotional impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown on South African children. IOL. (August, 2020)
Retrieved from: https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/ready-to-learn-the-emotional-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-and-lockdown-on-south-african-children-50691597 (August, 2020)
The World Health Organisation. 2020. Policy Brief: the impact of Covid-19 on children.
Retrieved from: https://unsdg.un.org/sites/default/files/2020-04/160420_Covid_Children_Policy_Brief (August, 2020)
Wolfson, R & Magnes, T., 2020. How the Covid-19 crisis has affected SA’s children. The Daily Maverick.
Retrieved from: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-06-08-how-the-covid-19-crisis-has-affected-sas-children/ (August, 2020)
Written by Charlotte Tinnion and Caley Wildman